OZY’s Exclusive Election Model: Republican Alarm Over Senate Is Overblown ... For Now

OZY’s Exclusive Election Model: Republican Alarm Over Senate Is Overblown ... For Now

U.S. Senate Majority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) listens during a news briefing after the weekly Senate Republican Policy Luncheon.

SourceAlex Wong/Getty

Why you should care

Our exclusive election forecast shows the GOP holding strong in the upper chamber.

The Texas U.S. Senate race, usually a point-after-touchdown level of difficulty for Republicans, reached a new phase Friday night when Sen. Ted Cruz faced off against Rep. Beto O’Rourke in their first debate. That’s right: Friday night. In Texas. In September. Even those who are not Tim Riggins fans should be able to connect the dots that Texans are far more interested in high school football than politics on fall Friday nights.

Incumbents typically want fewer debates than their challengers, and fewer eyeballs on them, so the Friday night move makes sense. (The next two debates are on a Sunday when the NFL’s Dallas Cowboys are playing at home, and then on a Tuesday.) Cruz’s scheduling in a race that’s proving far closer than initially expected is emblematic of a GOP that’s leaving nothing to chance as it frets about the potential for losing the Senate. But the data show that scenario remains highly unlikely.

OZY’s exclusive midterm elections projection model, in partnership with the Republican data and technology firm 0ptimus, shows Republicans with an 86.1 percent chance of holding their majority in the Senate after all the votes are counted — and that confidence has grown slightly in the past week. Democrats, meanwhile, are on an even more solid footing to capture the U.S. House from Republican hands: Our calculations give the Dems an 88.2 percent chance of taking the House.

We crunched more than 100 factors that helped predict past elections, with some extra weighting for unique aspects of this political year to produce these forecasts. For more on how these numbers were derived, scroll down to the bottom of this story. For more exclusive election coverage, subscribe to our Midterms in a Minute newsletter.

Thanks to newly released polls, both the Nevada and Missouri Senate races inched from “lean Democratic” to the “tossup” column this week. “While Democrats still enjoy a slight probabilistic edge in both of these seats, the movement toward Republicans in these seats is a bad sign for Democrats, as they can’t afford to lose more than one or two seats and expect to pick up enough to take the Senate majority,” says 0ptimus data scientist Alex Alduncin.

Coincidentally, Nevada and Missouri were the two states President Donald Trump visited last week to campaign for Republican Senate hopefuls. In fact, the president’s rally schedule reflects the all-in strategy to save the Senate. This coming week Trump has scheduled rallies in West Virginia (where Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin has a 69.3 percent chance of winning, per our model) and Tennessee (where Republican Marsha Blackburn has a 63.9 percent chance to hold Bob Corker’s seat). The president also plans to campaign in Texas in October — where Cruz holds a 70.2 percent chance of survival. The red-state-based Senate map is far friendlier to Trump than House battlegrounds, mostly suburban areas where Trump’s approval rating is suffering.

Democrats continue to hold a considerable advantage this year, with the national environment favoring them by 8.7 percentage points. And thus Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has been sounding alarm bells for weeks that his slim majority could be in danger — aiming to spur donors, activists and the candidates themselves. “All of them too close to call and every one of them is like a knife fight in an alley,” he told reporters this month of nine key races across the country. “It’s just a brawl in every one of those places.”

The biggest wild card in this Senate standoff could be Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh — who said Monday he will not withdraw his nomination in the face of sexual misconduct allegations. While the courts long have been seen as a winning issue for the GOP, and many conservatives have closed ranks around Kavanaugh in questioning whether these newly surfaced claims can be corroborated, women could turn away from Republicans even more if they are seen as being callous toward sexual assault victims.

Nevada Republican Sen. Dean Heller, in fact, took criticism last week for calling Christine Blasey Ford’s accusation that Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her in high school a “hiccup” on the road to confirming the judge. (He later said he was referring to how the Democrats handled the issue.) The coming weeks will tell if Heller’s re-election standing hits more than a hiccup.

In addition to our extensive on-the-ground coverage of races across the U.S. this year, OZY wanted to build a better product to analyze the national political picture — given the failure of such forecasts in the past. So we decided to team up with Washington-based 0ptimus, a Republican firm that developed an unbiased, nonpartisan prediction model so it could show its clients in the worlds of both politics and finance where the winds were blowing.

0ptimus’s data team created and tested countless models, crunching publicly available data against past results in House and Senate races. They take into account more than 100 variables, including past vote totals, generic ballot surveys of which party voters prefer in Congress, the unemployment rate, fundraising data and public polling. The firm developed an artificial intelligence system to “smartly” average together several models to create the strongest prediction numbers for the 2018 elections, always automatically testing against past elections to assess quality. You can read more about the 0ptimus methodology here.

Given the unique factors of 2018, we asked 0ptimus to tweak its calculations, adding additional weight to:

  • The number of small donations — a sign of energy for candidates from Trump to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
  • Gender — women are doing exceptionally well this year, and we expect that trend to continue.
  • Trump’s approval rating — as he hangs over the political and media scene with a heavier presence than past presidents.

Meanwhile, we asked 0ptimus to reduce the weight for:

  • Candidate ideology — their calculations rewarded more moderate candidates, while we think this election year is all about firing up the base.
  • Outside money — as OZY has reported, advertising is less persuasive coming from a super PAC than from a candidate.

Because 0ptimus averages several models, for us they introduced a new Bayesian model to the mix that included Trump approval, gender and unitemized donations, while removing one that included ideology and independent expenditures. The result is the numbers we update for you each week.

OZYPolitics & Power

Welcome to a new era in politics around the world, from innovators at the local level to federal disrupters like the Trump administration in America's capital.